Julius Caesar, for many a hero, for others a master of war, a tyrant. Whatever your take on Caesar is, the fact is that he was a rather intelligent man who used all the tools he had at hand to complete his objectives. Part of this involved building a narrative for Rome; tales of the greatness of their people and their military victories. Caesar in this regards was fantastic at crafting political propaganda; a common Roman sport that we have already explore in this blog with stories of Cicero and Augustus. And there was a particular enemy that Caesar needed to deprive of any glory: The Celts. Accounts of the Galic War mystified and bastardised the history of these people and who they really were, to the point that the comics of Asterix do, in many ways, represent that image that the Romans held of their neighbours. This did not stop just with Gaul; the same story is repeated with the Britons and the people of Iberia – And let’s not even get into the nitty-gritty details of the defilement of the Germani, you know, just the same people but on the other side of the Rhine river…Of course, it all makes sense if we consider that Caesar was only delivering the information that his audience wanted of him. Meanwhile, if we have a look at what Greek authors such as Timagenes had to say about the Celts, the picture varies drastically. The Celts of the Greeks weren’t described as dirty or in rags, even if the Greeks believed them to have lower economic power than themselves in some cases. They were described as a people with a culture and a cultural exchange that happened often between the two.
There are plenty of evidence, however that confirm that Caesar was writing with propagandistic accents and that the Celts were people of culture, and not uncivilised societies. Here in Britain and archaeological excavation directed in 2011 of Roman Callevva (Silchester) shows the existence of an earlier Celtic town. This was what is commonly known as an oppidum built following a grid pattern that reflected the sun solstice. It is believed to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last decade. There are also archaeological evidence that the Celts used their own roads that were funded by toll systems, and this is confirmed by evidence of chariots found in Yorkshire as well as in the Rhineland. According to Graham Robb, author of The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe, he advises that the druids – another terribly mystified group of people, not just by the Roman but by many more since them, particularly the Victorians and the waves of Hippies from the 60s- we key in these networks. Robb states that the druids devised network of continental wide solstice lines used in the locations for temples and towns. This seems to correlate with the discoveries found at Silchester too. Another thing he points out is that the Celts and these networks may have led into the earliest types of accurate maps that would have use the Greeks systems for longitude and latitude, again a sign of communication and borrowing between the two cultures.
So where does this fear and defamation of the Celts? Well, believe it or not ladies and gentlemen, this is something that will resonate incredibly without modern society. It was in fact fear of foreign people. Yes, you know, Trump, Brexit, all these movements and people are just representations of ideas that are rather ancient and demodee. Some cool guys with swords and original republics had already gone that far (and much classier and cooler I must say, if I am allowed to be flippant). Before the Rome succeeded in the supremacy for the West, there were in fact Celtic settlements all over their beloved patria. Notorious in this list are those in Turin, Milan and Bologna: all of which are, by the way, names of Celtic origin. There was conflict between these people, not just Rome and the Celts but also the Etruscans – or you know just a different type of Celts who happened to be really successful at what they did and were worthy of specific remarks. The conflict between all of these got to the point that arms were taken. As a result we have an important moment in the early history of Italy and one that will be forever ingrained in the memory of Rome: such was the Battle of Allia. During this confrontation (date c.390 BC, though Polybius suggests it may have been more like 387 BC) the Celts were the victorious side, and the trifle by the river Allia was not going to stop them. Their retaliation took them to the very gate of Rome, and as a consequence the city was sacked by you know them dirty Celts – and it was quite a frightful moment for the inhabitants of the city, many of which actually fled the settlement in despair. Collective memory is a power thing, it shapes us all and our perception of history, and no one likes to be on the losing side. Therefore, years later with the great Caesar in charge, things started being turned around for the glory of Rome, would not die at the hands of them Celts but subdue them, for sure…
…For sure? Well, let’s see…It would take a long while but it would be in fact the Germani – or you know, our friends the Celts but with a different name cause they happened to be on the other side of the river – that eventually lead to the fall of Rome, fall that was promoted by the very corrupted and broken system that our glorious Caesar had himself invented (and died for). And just some more food for thought: what of identity? A bit like the Vikings, whose past lives are misshapen by collective memory and political propaganda, the Celts are very much alive not just in our memory, but in our identity as people. There are certain parts of the world that if you walk around and ask their people who they are, or what they are, they will tell you they descend from the Celts. And to them those Celts are not the dirty barbs that the Romans painted. They are a proud and defined people, whose values, cultures and tales are still valued. Why, of course, you can accused me of being biased here for my Celtic heritage, but you just need to look around places in Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, and many more. The Celts are embraced as part of them alive, whilst often the Romans are referred to as those people who came here and left all these things behind for us. Identity and ‘foreignity’ (here I have invented my own word, yeah) are often related. We identify us by what others who aren’t us are. Just keep that in mind when you deal with people around you and more importantly, with people in the past.
We start again a series a theme posts – based on the supernatural, and/or local history. I have taken the task to combine these two synergies and to bring you something very personal for me. I want to tell you the stories of creatures now forgotten to many. I am talking about the mythology of my home region: Cantabria. The north of Spain is very different from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. It is cold, wet, and green. It is also blue, with the brave and treacherous Cantabrian sea shaping out the coasts of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. Although the northern regions share similarities amongst themselves, Cantabria is, well, special. People from the south say we speak like singing. Traditionally our diet was based on milk and beef, pulses, and fish: essentially what the farmers could grow in this tought landscape. As the modernisation of Spain occurred after Franco’s dictatorship, traditions, however, have become more like the rest of the country. Yet, we know Cantabria is different.
We still remember that the Cantabros kept the Romans away forcing them into a long campaign. Champions like Corocota forced Augustus to come in person to oversee the Cantabrian Wars (29 AC-19 BC), for my people came from a long lineage of bellicose celts, living in fortified castros. These dexterous and relentless warriors were so fierce that Roman accounts tell us how the legionaries would chop off the arms of the combatants to hinder the Cantabrian army. Yet, years later, when Cantabria raised in rebellion, the Romans noticed many of the warriors had become left-handed, and nothing would stop them from fighting. These warriors would also use the berries from one of their sacred trees – the Yew – to poison their weapons, or even eat them to take their own lives rather than falling at the hands of the enemy. The Cantabros, living in a well defended land by the sea, the mountains and the forests, had a rich culture of myths and legends, like many other celtic tribes. However, through the process of Romanisation, that was later on perpetrated by the Visigothic rule over Iberia, many legends were replaced by Christian traditions, or mingled and undermined as simple folk tales. They have been preserved thanks to oral tradition. Nevertheless, as the rural exodus increases due to modernisation – Cantabria was always a rural region – and the urban communities grow while villages drop dramatically in population, these tales are being lost.
Many of our folk tales are similar to those of other cultures. The celebration of San Juan, still popular nowadays that is, in essence, a summer equinox festivity. We light fires by the sea or in the woods to send away evil spirits. You can sometimes hear people speak in spells, drawing seven crosses over the fires to keep away the Caballucos del Diablo. These are seven faylike creatures, similar to dragonflies and fireflies, that go in groups. The red one leads the way followed by the other six: white, blue, black, yellow, green and orange. Legend has it that the Devil himself rides the on the red, and other demons and sinners ride the others. To keep them away you shall go to the forest searching for a four-leaved shamrock or flores del agua (water flowers). But this becomes a difficult task as by night the Caballucos destroy all the flowers and plants in their hellish ride. However, most people would just brush myths like this as blatant Christian superstition.
However, I was lucky to have known my great grandparents who owned a mountain house in a very remote village hidden in the mountains by the river Miera, close to the town of Liérganes. It was almost automated in the speech in the villagers to warn me against the Trenti or the Trasgu; these little gnome like creatures who were mischievous. Trentis would get travellers lost in the mountains for a joke. They wear clothes made of leaves and moss that allows them to camouflage in the woods. Trasgus, or trastolillos, are house gnomes who like messing around with your food, misplacing your items, and in general making a mess. But these creatures are mostly inoffensive. Whether the villagers actually believed in them or whether they were part of their cultural memory is difficult to tell. However, remember I just mentioned a place called Liérganes? Well, we used to go there regularly as it was the closest train station and the biggest town near by. Legend has it that many, many years ago there was a man there, who loved being in the water, he used to swim constantly in the Miera river. Turns out this man was somehow capable of breathing underwater. So his longing for the sea took him down river to the Cantabrico, actually to my natal city – Santander – and as he saw the vast sea before him, he became enamoured with it and disappeared into the deep. Some years later, it is said some mariners found this strange thing coming out of the water all the way down the bay of Cádiz (Andalucia). This creature did not look human to them, but fish like, however it could walk and talk, but he would say nothing except the word “Liérganes”. It seems some monks took pity of him and brought him back to his home town, to shortly after disappear into the water once more. This is was actually first recorded by Fray Benito Jerónimo Feijoo (a clergyman), and later on written by a Cantabrian author in 1877, José María Herrán. The book was called El Hombre-Pez de Lierganes – the Man-fish from Liérganes. I recall clearly, that when I was a child, one of the cafe places down in Liérganes operated under that very same name.
Thankfully, there some attempts by the people of Cantabria to keep their legends alive. Many have now been amalgamated with other tales of the north – but those are not our tales. We do not have a Basque Maya, or Galician Meigas; we have our own stories. I was pleased to find out that last year, my family went to celebrate the fayre of Cantabrian Mythology to a village called Barriopalacio (Anievas). There the villagers make their own festivity about our mythsby crafting costumes, recreating scenes from the folktales, and they even have folklore talks, where someone shares these ancient stories. They even have a play!
This is a natural park repurposed as well as a place where to celebrate Cantabrian mythology, although there are still many creatures to be included. It is nice knowing that the hard work of Manuel Llano, a famous Cantabrian author who compiled all these stories towards the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th century, was not in vain, and that Cantabrian people are slowly waking up to their own heritage.
So if you are intrigued by the creatures of La Montaña, please follow me in this personal trip and set of updates where I will share with you the rest of our mythos in the course of the next couple of months.
Hello everybody! I was very recently in Denmark exploring the land, trying to be a Viking and all that. Me being museum girl, I obviously ended in the Nationalmuseet…And I didn’t want to leave! This place holds the Best (and I meant that, truly) collection of pre-historic finds I have ever seen. Yes, I have been in the British Museum. Yes, I have travelled through France countless times, and yes the Altamira Caves are in my home land…Yet, I was blown away by this exhibition. The displays were fantastic. The information was neat, clear and well put together. There were handouts for those who wanted them, and the items were just amazing – we are talking of things I had even study and seen in Powerpoint slides in my Undergraduate and Masters lectures. And I tell you, the pictures do not make them justice. So, with the information I gathered, some pictures I took (apologies if the quality is not at its very best) i will give you a walk about of why going to the Nationalmuseet is a must!…And you know the best part of this particular site? Yeah, It IS Free.
The exhibition looks to walk through the highlights of Danish Prehistory, from the 13000 BC to the 1050AD. That means, technically from our point of view, that the include the Viking Age into their “prehistory”. This makes sense if we consider the lack of written sources, and the fact that there is a prolonged and sustained continuation of traditions and cultural patterns in the Old Norse, stretching from dare I say the Stone Age, up to our concept of the Early Middle Ages. Scandinavia was relatively isolated from the rest of Europe and that allowed for this status quo to continue for as long as possible…Some would argue that this changed with the appearance of the ruling dynasties of Northern Europe. However, my stand point is that the actual cutting point of old/ancient/whatever you want to call it Scandinavia is represented by the official adoption of Christianity as their religion – this is really what shook their world. Therefore, I am happy with this category and approach that the Nationalmuseet provides. In any case, the whole exhibition is composed of 24 rooms. I do not have pictures that necessarily follow this pattern, but I did a walk through the entire thing, so it should be well enough represented – if not room by room, nearly.
Starting in the Stone Age, the most striking and important archaeological find in the museum is the burial below.
It has been dated from around 7000 years ago. The reasons of their deaths are unknown. However the skull of the woman presents and earlier injury on her neck – but it is difficult to determine if this actually killed her or not. She is also buried with a hair pin and the beak of a grebe.
The following polished flints really grabbed my attention. If you have been in the Museum of London, you’d have seen similar things to this display. However the sheer quantity and clearly amazing craftsmanship sets them aside. The ones of the left of the picture were found in Maglehojs Vange, at the west of Copenhagen in 2001 during a drainage dig. The set on the right comes from Hagelbjerrggard near Ringsted. They were found in the 70s, while ploughing.
The next item is a beautiful piece of pottery (I could have photographed every vase in that case, because they were all brilliant, but this one is special).
The Skarpsalling Vessel, is one of the finest example of complex pottery design from the Neolithic. It was discovered in a burial mound, and its decoration is believed to have had ritual significance for the interment or the trip into the afterlife.
Moving on to the Bronze Age now – This picture was taken particularly for Alex! 🙂
The Egtved Girl is out next stop. This was a very important find for the understanding of textiles in pre-historic times. I am sure the picture I took shows why!
The oak coffin contained the remains of a young woman, aged between 16-18. It is believed that she was buried during the summer of 1370 BC. The archaeologists even found some skin, hair and teeth. Her dress was composed of a knee-length skirt made of cords and a short woollen bodice (very “modern” in current fashion terms). She was buried with some yarrow plant too, which is one of the factors that determined her burial must have taken place during the summer season. She was also accompanied by the charred boned of a young boy, aged 5-6. Recently, she had been subject of controversy as it seem that the analysis of strontium of her hair and teeth, the experts have determined she was born in the area of the Black Forest (Germany). So we could be looking at the burial of someone special. She had would have travelled to get to Denmark, but for what reasons? Was she a slave? Perhaps a young bride? Or maybe some sort of seer or healer? The interment of yarrow may be indicating that this woman had some sort of otherworldly connection.
Now the next item is one of the reasons why I went to the museum. And you should too! I have studied this piece, and now that I have seen it close, I can confirm it is the symbol of an era.
The Sun Chariot. I remember a cold Winter afternoon, sitting in a lecture room hearing Dr. Nick Thorpe talking about the Bronze Age and bringing this up on the screen. There is no wonder this item has instigated curiosity in the heart of archaeologists, as there is no other like it in the world. The bronze, gold-plated disk dates from around 1400 BC. It is the epitome of Celtic believe: the Sun being pulled by a horse. These were the two biggest cults through the Bronze Age and that have been found all over Europe.
Moving on, the following is another controversial find. And one that clearly influenced the Viking myth of horned helmets.
No. I know what you are thinking, and no, these were not taken into battle! They were rather ritualistic items! In fact, it is believed that as they represent they horns of the bull (another important cult animal within Bronze Age believe), these would have been worn by a priest for ceremonial purposes. It is likely they would have been adorned by feathers at the ends of the horns, and perhaps horsehair in the middle like a crest. Also, consider how inconvenient horned helmets would have been while fighting! Particularly when made out of Bronze! – If you do not believe me, speak with Alex, and he will tell you everything you need to know about them.
More displays of Celtic/Bronze Age believe. The Sun always leading the way. These two stones found in Zealand and dating from around 1100-700 BC, are an indicator of the long-lasting practice of this cult. The one of the left is from Jaegersborg Dyrehave, depicting the sun on a boat. The one of the right is portraying a dance in honour of the sun, and was found in Engelstrup.
Still in the Bronze Age, another epic (for the lack of other word) display in room 13.
These musical instruments are from the later end of the Bronze Age. They may not seem like much in this section of the picture, but the entire display case was as big as my bathroom – honestly, there was loads of them and in top condition. Their shape is probably modelled after an ox horn. It seems that in Danish finds, these instruments come in pairs, and are always found in bogs, where they were probably interred as sacrificial offerings. We know from Swedish rock carvings that lur players took part in processions, and it is likely their music was fundamental for ceremonial purposes.
Another big player in the Celtic world – The Dejbjerg Wagon. Again, in a lecture with Dr. Thorpe we had a vivid discussion about these artefacts. There have been several burials across Europe involving wagons. Therefore one can assume their sacrificial purpose is obvious, and in fact this one was dismantled and buried in a peat bog for that purpose. However, these items could be indicating more than just ritual. These would have been genuine methods of transport, even if locally – and this comes across as a certainty after having visited Trelleborg (I’ll talk about that in another post), where the settlement had a cross of wooden paths used to transport goods from side to side and out into the surrounding villages! I believe there are further studies relating to this concerning some wagon findings in Yorkshire that would suggest the same hypothesis. Moreover, these are great displays of power by the magnates of the settlements. So it is likely they may have been used in rituals of gift giving, carrying their master across the settlement while giving away treasure. In any case, they are truly remarkable.
Next, and jumping into the Iron Age, we have a fantastic piece, of international renown, and one of the master pieces of the museum. The Gundestrup Cauldron.
It weights nine kilos! And it was made c.100 BC in the Balkans, and then exported to Denmark. It was found once again in a bog burial, as a sacrificial item. Due to the great craftsmanship and incredible wealth, it is supposed this was offered to the gods rather than just buried with its owner. It is a pity I could not take a picture of the inside of the item (it is protected by a very thick glass), but the carvings are simply mind-blowing. It is decorated with all sorts of animals, mythical creatures, and deities.
Continuing with our Iron Age trip, we encounter this!
The vessel was unearthed in the 1920s out of the bog known as Hjortspring Mose, on the island of Als (Sonderjylland, south Denmark). It was built between 400-300 BC, and it is 18 meters long. It is the oldest find of wooden plank ship in Scandinavia. It contained several weapons, armours and war gear, indicating that its sinking may have been for ceremonial purposes (notice a trend?). A boat of these dimensions would have required a crew of at least 20 men, and it is supported that before it was sunk, it would have been in battle. The interpretation of the museum is that an army of around 80-100 men would have come to the island on a fleet of 4-5 of these boats. the launched the attacked but they failed, thus the victorious native population buried the ship with the belongings of their defeated enemies.
Finally, my last stop in the Danish Iron Age – the burial of a clearly wealthy lady.
It has been estimated that the deceased was around 40-50 when her life came to end. She was buried with a brooch inscribed with the name widuhudaR, which is male. So it is contested whether this is the signature of the smith that made the fine item, or a gift from a man to this female. Interestingly this burials presents a clear sign of Roman influence: a Charon’s coin was found in her mouth, as a way to pay for her passage into the afterlife. There are several pieces that are of Roman made in her grave: drinking vessels, beads and arms rings. The question remains whether she was of Norse or Mediterranean origin. Perhaps she was a native with clear connections with the empire, and that may have been the source of her power and wealth.
Ok so we are nearly finished now. I would just like to incorporate, and end this post as the museum does: with the Viking Age. To my surprise, there was a considerable lack of Viking artefacts on display. However, these is a legitimate reason for this. Many of you may know that currently there is an exhibition about the Vikings organised by the Nationalmuseet going around. It stopped at the British Museum in 2014 under the name Vikings: Life and Legend. So a few of these items are currently on loan elsewhere for different displays. Nevertheless, I captured a few things… These are of importance to me. Why these and no others. Well first for the lack of certain items as I just explained. Secondly, because they relate to my research! 😉
Well, this is all for me now. But there are more reviews and travel posts from my trip to Denmark coming up, so…Keep an eye out! Hope you enjoyed it, perhaps even as much as I did!
New year, new challenges, therefore the W.U Hstry team started the month with posts outside of their comfort zone. Now, I am the oldest member, and I’ve written about a lot of stuff from all periods and various topics, so establishing what is outside of my comfort zone was tough. So, I did a deep analysis of my strengths and limitations as a historian, the things that interest me and the things I have ignored for long. And I came to the conclusion that, as someone who was born in the Iberian Peninsula, I had shown not much interest for this geographical area. More importantly, I had been ignoring all of Portugal! I’ve been in Portugal and found it a very eclectic and lovely visit, so the least I could do was gain some knowledge about its lost past. Hence, here I bring you a post (map included, beware!) of the pre-Roman people of Portugal and their geographical distribution.
The knowledge we have about these people comes mainly from classical sources, such as the Roman authors speaking about the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. They mainly report 3 groups of people, the Lusitanians, the Gallaeci, and the Conii. However, it has been established by historians and archaeologists that the group identified as Gallaeci would have been nothing more but the amalgamation of the various Celtic tribes inhabiting the area known as Lusitania. Moreover, there is evidence of smaller communities and ethnic distributed all over the area of modern-day Portugal which are most of the time ignored or undervalued. This, I think is unfair, therefore I have developed the above map, with the little information we have about these people and the areas they occupied. In the following lines, I will provide you with a general outline of the details we know about them in terms of occupation and culture. This is not remotely the most accurate map ever, nor do I claim to be the best cartographer, but at least it helps as a visual tool to locate the people, you know in case your Portuguese geography is as atrophied as mine.
Starting with the tribes at the north, and in close contact with the frontier at Galicia, we find 6 main groups. Represented in violet, we have the Leuni. We know that they were of Celtic origin and occupied the area between the river Lima and Minho- and that’s about it. In the area adjacent lived the Limici (dark green on the map), in the swap terrains around the Lima river. Lim in Latin relates to swap, which justifies their name and association with this area. In addition, it seems that these people are descendent of the Liguri, one of the oldest ethnic groups known in the Lusiatia area. The Quaquerni follow (yellow), being the Celtiberian tribe located in the mountains where the rivers Cavado and Tamega begin. We have found evidence that support the survival of these people up to the Suevi invasion. The forth tribe is the Tamagani (dark blue in the map). They lived in the current counties of Verin and Chaves, in the Alto Tras-os-Montes region and were probably of Celtic roots. In turquoise is highlighted the area occupied by the Equesos, whose name suggest the cult of the horse-EQVV in Latin- and this links them with the Celts. They also seemed to have lasted up until the Suevi invasion and even throughout their reign. The 6th and final tribe of the north, painted orange, is that of the Interamici, whose origins are unknown. They stretched through the limits with the Spanish autonomic regions of Zamora and Ourense.
Moving a bit further down we encounter five new tribes that dominated the area. First, in sky blue, are the Seurbi, another Celtic tribe settle between the river Cavado and Lima. There is even some indication that their area of influence may have stretched up to the Minho river, being therefore in close contact with the Leuni and Limici. Next down are the Bracari, (red). They settled around the modern city of Braga, and extended their influence across the rivers Tamega and Cavados. They were a bellicose tribe, in fact their women are well-know for being involved in warfare. In addition, archaeological evidence found in Braga suggest that this group worshiped the Celtic deity Nabia, goddess of waters and rivers. Their neighbors were the Paesuri, a tribe akin and dependent to the Lusitanians. They occupied a large area between the Douro and Vouga rivers, from the north to the center of Portugal. They founded the city of Talabriga, which is supposed to be located nearby modern Aveiro, although this is contested by several scholars. The forth tribe is that of the Nemetati (brown), a Celtic tribe settled around the area of Modim, by the river Douro and down to the valley of the Ave. Their origins remount to the union of two other ethnic groups: the neneus and the heteus, who supposedly descended from the people of the Efrain mountains. It seems that this tribe was in close contact, and was potentially allied to the Bracari. Finally, the last tribe occupying this area is the Luancos, whose name was given by Ptolemy. Their power base spread between the river Tamega and Tua. This tribe was also associated with hunting, and it is supposed that their name had some association with the lynx.
As we move further down into Portugal, one can appreciate that the Southern pre-Roman tribes seemed to have a better defined area of occupation- the reasons for this? I am yet to discover them. Perhaps it is due to their proximity with the Mediterranean colonists and traders which allowed a better recording of their culture. So right at the Atlantic verge of Portugal, in the region known as Algarve, we have the Conii or Cynetes (light blue). Their culture was acknowledged by the Romans due to their alliance during the Roman conquest of Iberia, and indeed they are mentioned by Polibius, Avienus and Herodotus. Their ethnic origins are still unknown, although everything seems to point to an Indo-European pre-Celtic past, and they seem to have occupied this area as far back at the 8th century B.C. Their main city was Conistorgis, which was destroyed by the Lusitanians during the time of the conquest due to their ties with the invaders. Above the Conii, the Celtici (pink) amassed a vast area of influence. Located in what today is the Alentejo region, the Celtici were another conglomerate of Celtic people. They included minor tribes with key communities and settlements in Lacobriga, Caepiana, Braetolaeum, Mirobriga, Arcobriga, Meribriga, Cataleucus, Turres, Albae and Arandis.
And finally we have the middle of Portugal occupied mainly by the Lusitanians- represented by the black polygon in the map. But before we move on to the main Portuguese tribe, lets give a quick mention to the Tapoli. The Tapoli (purple) were also a Celtic tribe who were akin to the Lusitanians, therefore their close share of geographical space. They were smaller in numbers, and settled mainly on the north of the Tagus river, around the frontier between Spain and Portugal. Nevertheless, it seems that this ethnic group was wiped out by the Romans during the occupation of the Peninsula. Now I have spent the last thousand words or so mentioning the Lusitanians here and there, so I think it is time for an explanation. They were the most prominent Celtic tribe settled in Portugal. Their area of influence spread across the area of Castelo Bronco (in the map they are represented by the big black polygon). From the Roman authors we understand that their power didn’t reach the Atlantic shore, and this has been backed up by the archaeological record. It is likely that they established themselves in this area around the 6th Century BC, however their ethnic background is still disputed. Even though as far as we are concerned they belong in the Celtic group, there are scholars who believe they may actually be pre-Celtic as some recent findings in the Iberian Peninsula point to this- some writing examples which suggest an older Indo-European tradition.
There are abundant material about the culture of this people. We know that their main deity was Ares, usually called Ares Lusitani to differentiate him from the classical God of War. The Lusitanian Ares was the god of horses, a very popular deity amongst the Celts. There was also a strong worship of Ataecina, especially in the south. She was the goddess of fertility, rebirth, nature and medicine as well as the moon. Moreover, the Lusitanians also worshiped Nabia, like many of the other tribes, and Endovelicus, god of public health and safety. It seems that his cult prevailed well after the Roman conquest of Iberia, up to the 5th Century, when Christianity started acquiring weight and importance in the territory. Some other sociocultural aspects of this people were the use of wool clothes and items such as bracelets and necklaces similar to those of the rest of Iberian/Celtic tribes. Furthermore, scholars support the idea that the Lusitanians were monogamous, lived in squared stone houses, and were boat builders. These boats appear to have been made with lumber or even leather. In addition, the classical authors described them as being well versed at guerrilla warfare. An example of this is what the Roman troops had to face when invading Portugal and confronting Viriato, one of the most famous Lusitanian leaders. One of their weapons of predilection was the falcata, always popular amongst the Celts. Nevertheless, the power of Rome was not something to be taken lightly. War between the Lusitanians and many of the other ancient Portuguese people against the Romans began around 193BC, from there on the Romanisation process became a relentless and persistent changing force in the culture and identity of the Iberian Peninsula, and so many of these old ancestors perished while others struggled to survive in a world similar, yet different from what they used to know.
The Iron Age is conventionally defined by the widespread use of Iron tools and weapons, alongside or replacing bronze ones. The transition happened at different times in different parts of the world as the technology spread. Mesopotamia was fully into the Iron Age by 900 BC. Although Egypt produced iron artifacts, bronze remained dominant there until the conquest by Assyria in 663 BC. The Iron Age started in Central Europe around 500 BC, and in India and China sometime between 1200 and 500 BC.
Before the start of what can be considered an ‘Iron Age’ there would have been some sort of slow gradual transition, especially in the earlier cases. So there are many examples of iron artifacts being produced in small quantities in places that were still far from their Iron Age. The place and time for the discovery of iron smelting is not known, but archaeological evidence seems to point to the Middle East area, during the Bronze Age in the 3rd millennium BC. One of the earliest smelted iron artifacts found is a dagger with an iron blade found in a Hattic tomb in Anatolia, dating from 2500 BC. By about 1500 BC, increasing numbers of smelted iron objects appear in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Egypt. For example, nineteen iron objects were found in the tomb of Egyptian ruler Tutankhamun, who died in 1323 BC, including an iron dagger with a golden hilt and sixteen models of artisan tools.
Iron artifacts still remained a rarity until the 12th century BC. Although iron objects from the Bronze Age were found all across the Eastern Mediterranean, they are almost insignificant in numbers when compared to the quantity of bronze objects during this time. By the 12th century BC, iron smelting and forging, for weapons and tools, was common from Sub-Saharan Africa and through India. As the technology spread, iron came to replace bronze as the dominant metal used for tools and weapons across the Eastern Mediterranean. Iron working was introduced to Greece in the late 11th century BC and the earliest parts seeing the Iron Age in Central Europe are of the Hallstatt culture in the 8th century BC. Throughout the 7th to 6th centuries BC, iron artifacts remained luxury items reserved for an elite. This changed dramatically after 500 BC with the rise of the La Tène culture, from which time iron also becomes common in Northern Europe and Britain. The spread of iron working in Central and Western Europe at this time is heavily associated with the Celtic expansion.
In most of these places, as expected, the transition from Bronze to Iron as the dominant metal was very slow. To begin with Iron was actually a rather poor material for weapons, particularly early on when iron smelting knowledge was weak. Swords would be liable to bend or break. Yet bronze weapon manufacturing had been perfected after many centuries of use, so it would be more efficient and convenient to stay with the tried and tested. However there is an event which straddled the Bronze and Iron Ages, and may be part of an example of a more sudden change from bronze to iron. This event, known as The Late Bronze Age collapse was a transition in the Aegean Region, Southwestern Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age that historians believe was violent, sudden and culturally disruptive. There are various theories put forward to explain the reasons behind the collapse, many of them based on Environmental and cultural factors.
There are also many theories that may show that it may be no coincidence that the collapse and the transition to Iron overlapped in this area. One suggests that iron, while inferior to bronze for weapons, was in more plentiful supply and so allowed larger armies of iron users to overwhelm the smaller bronze-using armies. Iron’s advantage was that its ores were very easily accessible. And while the smelting process was more difficult, once learned it would allow mass production of iron items. It didn’t matter if the bronze weapons were as good or better, if you could field ten times as many armed men. However, this argument has been weakened with the finding that the shift to iron may have occurred after the collapse instead of before. Another theory is that the disruption of long distance trade during and after the collapse cut the supplies of tin, making bronze impossible to make. Whichever way the Mediterranean cultures came to their Iron age, it was likely from here that Iron production techniques were passed on to eventually become the norm and gradually move north with the expansion of the Celtic cultures throughout Europe.
After that first update, I felt like I should actually talk about other local games we have here in Cantabria, that perhaps are more peculiar and a bit more fun and interesting for you dear readers. I cannot help but remember other typical sports from farther up lands that have some deep roots in their people, like those Scottish games of throwing lugs of stone, or that English one of rolling cheese down the hill. Those things make an identity, they are part of a community, and sometimes we do forget about them. Why? Is not throwing cheese down the road something nice to remember? A few days ago, I saw the new Disney movie, Brave, and since then I have not been able to get that idea of local history, of tradition out of my head. (The film is a great fun and interesting to see if you care about my opinion, by the way). So, this is my way of paying tribute to my heritage I suppose, and at the same time to share that sportive spirit that is consuming everything lately.